This weekend marked the Grand Opening of Planet Granite’s newest gym in Portland, Oregon. It was an amazing weekend that saw thousands of people from the greater Pacific Northwest converge onto our newest world-class facility. The resounding response was A+ for the facility, staff, route movement and quality. We did, however, definitely receive one less than stellar grade… on our grades.
1. easy to mold
2. bringing ease
Well, we’re here to say, you’re right, we’re soft! But not necessarily in the way you might be thinking. You see, building a world-class facility and developing programming for such a strong community of climbers and athletes is a daunting task and one that we are so humbled to have the opportunity to embark on.
As with all new things, we’re figuring it out as we go. And here’s the thing, we are “easy to mold” and we’re psyched to change things based on your feedback over the last few days (read below for more on this). We also genuinely want “to bring ease” to the hundreds of new climbers that we hosted this weekend.
So we decided to sit down with our Head Setter Josh Haynes to talk about his team’s process, what it’s like to set a 30,000 square foot blank canvas and initial reactions from the Portland community after Opening Weekend.
But first, just who is Josh Haynes?
A hueco mask.
The state of Oklahoma.
Numbers marking special moments with a pretty gal named Rachel.
These are just a few of the tattoos etched on Haynes. “My wife is the best part of me,” he says of that pretty gal.
Haynes started climbing in Texas grain silos at the age of 22 and started setting shortly thereafter. While it was a “late” start by his own admission, it didn’t keep him from committing fully to the sport, climbing both V14 and 5.14 after several seasons on the road, living in an old converted ambulance. He’s guided at Hueco. He’s set at more than 10 gyms around the country including The Front in Salt Lake City, The Spot in Boulder and several US National Bouldering competitions. Now, he’s bringing his crazy awesome spreadsheets to PG.
Planet Granite is proud to have this Level 3 certified USAC setter at the helm of the 7-person, world-class setting team in Portland. Haynes brings more than 15 years of setting experience and an analytical, systems view to an endeavor that is inherently extremely creative and individual.
Q: Alright Josh, let’s start with what EVERYONE is talking about after Opening Weekend – our soft
toilet paper – I mean grades!
JH: Oh yes, the soft grades. We’ve certainly gotten an earful about this over the last week! To be frank, our intention was to be a hair soft, like one letter grade, mainly for all the new climbers coming in. And boy did we get new climbers. More than 200 people attended belay lessons over Opening Weekend. Think about it – that means there are 200 new climbers in Portland. We are psyched about that!
Back to the question though. To be frank, setting 30,000 square feet of walls is a daunting task. We had a lot of terrain to set in just a few weeks and only a handful of setters. Unfortunately, I think, ultimately, we were more tired than we realized when we were running the roped routes so we ended up grading them softer than initially expected. Despite the softness, though, we believe the routes themselves are high quality and offer great movement.
Q: And that’s certainly something we’ve heard. Explain the process, how exactly does your team grade routes?
JH: Well this first run was very different than how it will normally be. We had an entire gym to set (30,000 square feet!) in about 3 months. We started with a team of 2 setters and ultimately worked up to 7 setters for the last month. We had to work alongside construction crews so we couldn’t plan ahead of time what to set each day. We had to come in everyday and see what was available. That changed our process a bit.
Typically, we will set a route, and eventually have three people confirm a grade before the end of the day. But with construction we couldn’t run routes for days. What that meant is that we had to run many routes all at once on the days the construction crews cleared the space for us.
Q: You know, many people pointed to the fact that while the routes felt soft, the boulder problems felt spot on. Why the disparity?
JH: I actually find this extremely encouraging. You see, we didn’t have flooring in the bouldering area for a very long time, so we couldn’t set them until much closer to Opening. By that time, we had the whole team established and in place. So, when it came time to run those problems we got to grade them together as a team, something we didn’t get to do with the routes. To me, that means the team works well together and is accurate at grading.
Q: Are there any changes planned as a result of the feedback from the Portland community?
JH: You betcha. Several things are planned. First off, after receiving such crucial customer feedback we have gone through and re-run the routes and have made adjustments to some of the route grades. We didn’t want to make any super drastic adjustments for the people that have been coming in but we did try to make some adjustments to make it closer to what these strong Portland climbers are used to.
Secondly, we finally had a chance to put our suggestion box at the front desk. We encourage our members and guests to please give us specific route feedback there. Lastly, I’d be happy to meet with anyone and answer questions. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: What’s the best feedback you’ve gotten thus far?
JH: Honestly, while it’s been made very clear that the routes were soft, people have also been very encouraging telling us the quality was amazing and the movement was fun. And that’s what we setters like to hear. Setting is kind of like art. I know that sounds like a cliche – but it’s true. It’s like painting. When you are painting a tree, or in this case setting a move or a sequence, you focus all your attention on that one object. But, you have to make sure it fits in with the picture as a whole. And that’s what my team is really focused on. That and listening to the community.
One time, I had a little bitty 5-foot woman, probably in her early 60’s, come up to me and say she loved the routes but that she preferred overhangs and big moves so she’d like me to set more problems like that. It’s feedback like that that makes me remember we need to keep variety. It helps us know what the community wants and it helps us be creative.
Q: Tell me about your team.
JH: I have one of the most gifted, talented setting teams of anywhere that I’ve ever been. I’m not just saying that. Their overall talent for setting (we have a USAC Level 4 setter) and their willingness to listen and adjust according to feedback is incredible. Nobody is focused on their individual egos. That’s rare. Everybody is in this together to create the best end product that we can.
And for me personally it’s less about the setting talent and more about how each individual gets along with the team as a whole and how they get along with customers. I focus my team on being super customer friendly. At some gyms in the old days setters would come in, do their thing and leave. I don’t want that here. I want it to be “Oh cool, the setters are here, I want to talk to them and get the beta from this route.” So if you see us out setting, please come up to us!
Q: Give us a little background on what we can expect in the years to come? Rotation? Number of routes?
JH: Initially the gym is broken down into 10 sections including climbing and bouldering. Every week we will strip and re-set a section and alternate between routes and bouldering. That way every other week there is a new area to climb. We may adjust that schedule and speed depending on member feedback.
Within a year we’d like to be up to 200 routes and about 250 boulder problems. The majority will be easy to moderate meaning 5.9-5.11 and V0-V6. That said, we want to be sure we have enough for our really strong climbers. We’ll probably have close to 30 routes in the 5.12a to 5.13+ range when it’s all said and done. It’s a balance that we’ll continually be setting and adjusting as we learn more about our member base.
Q: Your spreadsheets to track all of this are out of this world. Give us a little insight into what goes into them!
JH: I worked for Apple as a trainer for several years, and have learned the benefits of organization and spreadsheets (aka I’m now an official dork). For me they are crucial because I can have all the information I need on one sheet. Unfortunately, I tend to nerd out a little while making them, and probably over do it a bit. They help me keep track of what’s on the wall, what needs to be on the wall, and our overall rotation.
Q: Last question – you just moved to Portland from Houston, Texas – what are your thoughts so far?
JH: My wife and I are psyched to be here. She is a glassblower and working at a couple of the studios downtown, as well as as studio in Tigard. We’ve wanted to live in Portland for a very long time. She had good glass blowing opportunities here and I was lucky enough to be offered this job!
The other thing I have to say, is, kudos to the Portland community for giving us feedback so quickly. I really appreciate it as it helps us do our job and speaks loads to the excitement of the community towards this gym.
If you have questions about setting, training or glass blowing, be sure to reach out to Josh@planetgranite.com (he’ll check with his better half on the latter).